Almost everything that comes along seeming too good to be true is just that. Thankfully, there are exceptions. Once in a while something pops up that’s everything it is cracked up to be. This miracle treatment is exercise.
Exercise is the second greatest health intervention known to medical science. The #1 health intervention is stopping smoking, however, so it’s not available to all. While exercise has long been known to be good for us, only in the past few years have researchers nailed down just how wonderful it is.
It turns out that simple exercise makes us feel good (and look better) but more importantly – it really and truly protects against a plethora of diseases. And we are talking about some of the biggest killers: heart disease, diabetes, strokes, dementia, and depression. Exercise has been proven to aid memory while reducing obesity (with all of its contributions to disease states).
The news on exercise is so good that we should go on a bit about it – starting with the fact that significant benefit is gained by only 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week (for a 150 minutes a week total).
Defining “moderate” has always been a bit tricky. What do they mean by “moderate”? Exercise researchers talk about “metabolic equivalent” (METs) as a way to calculate how much a given activity compares to resting. “Moderate” exercise works out to 3 to 6 METs. This can be achieved by walking 100 steps per minute. This is easy to gauge. For more detail on how a given activity stacks up in METs one may look up a chart of activities.
Note: such charts reveal some surprises. Many activities reach high levels of METs [examples: cross country skiing (16), fast swimming (11), jogging 5mph (8)], but some are less impressive than one might hope. Downhill skiing only rates a 6 (I think this must vary tremendously skier to skier) but far worse “vigorous sex” only clocks in at 1.5 METs. Contrary to what you may have been told you must not count on bedroom activities to meet your exercise requirements. We do recommend it for other reasons however – such as meeting your romance and fun requirements.
Another bit of good news is that researchers now believe that you can slice that 150 minutes a week almost any way you choose and still derive a benefit. Couple this to a third bit of welcome news – value can be had for exercise bouts as short as ten minutes – to see that there are many regimens that will help a person.
New data seems to have settled some age-old debates on exercise. Large well- designed studies have now established that muscle strength and aerobic fitness really do make independent contributions to health. You benefit from jogging AND from pumping iron.
The numbers we can now place on health benefits are impressive. Exercise moderately and your risk of type II diabetes drops 58%. Exercise makes cells more responsive to insulin while muscle contractions help get sugar out of the blood and into our cells where it belongs.
With a regimen of moderate exercise the risk of death from premature heart disease drops 40%. The same can be said for the risk of a heart attack!
Many healthy effects from exercise come from positive actions on fat metabolism. Exercise knocks down the levels of fat in our bloodstream. One study showed a single 2 hour bout of exercise reducing trigyceride levels 25%. Cholesterol levels – particularly the very low density lipoproteins (VLDL aka “bad cholesterol”) – showed double this reduction.
Somewhat unexpectedly – studies on memory now show that even moderate exercise improves recall 15 to 20 percent. And if all this has failed to convince you to get up off the couch let’s add the fact that it can help with cancer risks as well. We shall save this last for the next blog, however and go out the way we came in: simply exercising your body moderately pays gigantic benefits to your health.
You do not need to be training at an Olympic level – moderate exercise will help. You do not need to spend hours a day to see a benefit – 150 minutes a week will help (including workouts of as little as ten minutes a crack). By doing this your risks of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, dementia, cancer and a lot more are significantly reduced while you are made to feel better, and look better.
Exercise seems too good to be true, but it is not. And even if sexual activity is not as good as cross-country skiing (from a metabolic standpoint a least) we still encourage it. We will have more to say about that soon.